Copyright questions raised in movie deal

Who really owns the rights to James Erwin's RomeSweetRome, the script that Hollywood picked up from Reddit? It is not so clear.


Kevin Morris


Published Oct 20, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 2:01 am CDT

Does Warner Bros. really have the rights to the movie spawned from a Reddit comment?

The Hollywood Reporter cast doubt on the deal earlier today, pointing to a particularly prickly section of the social news site’s user agreement.

Last week, Warner Bros. announced it had snagged rights to RomeSweetRome, a story that Reddit user James Erwin blasted out in a series. of comments on the site about a month ago.

But here’s what Reddit’s user agreement has to say about who owns the right to content on the site:

you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so. [italics added]

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Reddit’s copyright agent, Jerry Birenz, hinted that “a strict reading” of the user agreement would give numerous parties the right to claim license to the story.

That could put Warner Bros. and Erwin in a potentially tight spot—especially because the actual concept for the story came from another redditor (Erwin’s story was a reply to someone else’s question). Many people contributed to the project along the way in its home on reddit, r/RomeSweetRome.

Reddit staff declined to comment on this for our story.

Challenging the rights to Erwin’s screenplay might not be such a smart move for the site, however. The technical writer from Des Moines, Iowa represents a kind of comment-to-riches story: Write a comment on Reddit, get a movie deal.

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*First Published: Oct 20, 2011, 6:56 pm CDT